When I wrote this post for the now-defunct Denver Magazine food blog back in January, I was sitting at a café in my old neighborhood in Boston, sipping a cappuccino & watching the world go by: black-clad grandfolks ambling toward St. Leonard’s, shopkeepers unleashing torrents of Sicilian dialect, tourists clutching bags of cannoli. They’re all part of daily life in the historic, ever-picturesque North End, as the city’s Little Italy is called. And when I get a yen for a mound of linguine alle vongole or a giant arancino oozing ragù—which is often here in Colorado—I miss it terribly.
It’s not that I can’t get red sauce in Denver; it’s the sheer concentration of Italian-American joints in the North End, and the ambiance they collectively exude, that I crave. Located on a nondescript stretch of South Broadway, Gennaro’s Cafe Italiano doesn’t boast much ambiance at all, let alone the steretopyical charm of red-checked tablecloths & rough frescoes. While the adjacent dive bar at least has garish red walls & a jukebox, the dining room is completely bare-bones. But something about the retro signage out front—not least that neon martini glass—assured me, when I first glimpsed it after moving here in 2007, that Gennaro’s was a place where I might find a taste of home (even if the vibe made me want to get it to go).
Then, it was still owned by the Gennaro family, as it had been since 1951. Now, it’s run by Tanya Tiscanni & Irene Herrera; though the menu is largely the same, except for the addition of a coffee bar, the recipes they use are their own. And they’re just what il medico ordered to cure this Beantown buff’s frequent homesickness.
The lasagna is a stand-out:
giant, pillowy squares from which mozzarella & ricotta, ground beef & sausage spill into a pool of rich, thick, herbed marinara sauce. Said sausage comes from the 85-year-old local institution that is Polidori—and it’s rightly showcased in a number of other preparations as well, including, of course, the aptly named sausage & peppers.
In this simple, Sicilian-style comfort dish, disks of Italian link sausage are sauteed with sweet sliced green bell pepper & red onion, then bathed in the aforementioned, oregano-redolent marinara.
Meanwhile, Polidori’s distinctly spicy, coarse-ground sausage features prominently atop the Tiscanni, a mozzarella-based white pizza scattered with dollops of sweet, fresh ricotta & chopped, roasted red pepper. Look closely, and you’ll also spot a sprinkling of dried oregano, minced garlic, and fennel seeds.
It all makes for what would be a model pie if the bubbly, chewy crust had just a bit more char; if you, like me, are big on the blackened bits, you’d do well to make a special request. Still, the solace I seek in red sauce—“when, sick for home, / She stood in tears amid the alien corn”—is easy to come by here.
Gennaro’s Cafe Italiano: 2598 S. Broadway, Denver; 303.722.1044; Lunch and dinner daily; $6–$19.